Number of Infected Employees Also Is Growing
WASHINGTON—As the number of new coronavirus cases rose throughout the country, VA’s caseload grew as well, with the number of VA’s active COVID-19 cases more than quadrupling between the beginning of June and the end of July.
The geographic burden of the pandemic also has shifted, with VA hospitals in Texas and Arizona now taking the biggest brunt of the disease. To accommodate the continuing surge of COVID-19 patients, some VA hospitals have resorted to moving non-COVID patients to other facilities to make room.
In addition, the number of infected VA employees continues to grow. And, while this suggests that VA workers face substantial risk, the department has resisted offering additional hazard pay to front-line employees.
As of July 27, VA had just topped 36,000 total cases. The number of active cases topped 6,000 in July, dipping to 5,785 by the end of the month. And a total of 6,722 COVID-19 patients had been admitted to VA facilities, as of July 20.
While the number of cases grew at an accelerated rate, the death toll remained relatively steady. VA hit the grim milestone of 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in VA facilities on May 16, approximately two months into the pandemic. By the end of July total deaths were just shy of 2,000.
In April and May, the biggest caseloads were being seen by VA facilities on the East Coast, with hospitals in the New York City area, as well as in Louisiana and Washington, DC, topping the list. Now, facilities in previously unaffected Southern and Western states are dealing with the biggest caseloads in the VA system. Those include hospitals in San Antonio, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix and Columbia, SC, with the Texas Valley Coastal Bend Healthcare System at the southernmost tip of Texas topping the list.
In response to the surge, the Audie Murphy VAMC in San Antonio moved eight of its Spinal Cord Injury Unit (SCIU) patients to Dallas to make room for more COVID-19 patients. There also were unconfirmed reports that the Phoenix VAMC conducted similar transfers to create surge capacity.
While VA facilities were dealing with their own patient load, many also were admitting civilian patients as part of VA’s “fourth mission” of acting as a backstop to the nation’s healthcare system during emergencies. As of July 20, facilities in New Mexico, Utah, California, Florida, Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, New York and New Jersey had all accepted civilian patients.
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